Estimates suggest that US companies spend more than $20 billion each year in workers’ compensation claims resulting from musculoskeletal injuries. When you factor in employee replacement, loss of productivity, and increased insurance premiums, that cost more than doubles. The good news is with the right training and work practices, work-related musculoskeletal injuries can be significantly reduced.
Why Company Leadership Should Be Concerned About Ergonomic Problems
According to a recent Gallop poll, 70% of the US workforce reports suffering discomfort due to a musculoskeletal injury. When you combine those numbers with the current research from the American Medical Association that indicates an employee in pain loses 5 ½ hours of productivity due to discomfort, quickly and efficiently addressing employee pain is not only crucial to overall employee health but also has significant implications for a company’s bottom line.
Related: What Is Ergonomics? (Plus Its Importance in the Workplace)
What Are the Most Common Ergonomic Problems and Their Solutions?
Regardless of industry, some common ergonomic problems can be addressed with early intervention practices to prevent an injury from occurring in the first place. Below are five of those ergonomic problems and solutions to correct the issue.
1. Not Operating in Neutral Position
The body functions best when we work in a neutral position. The neutral position is merely a comfortable position that aligns all of your joints. When you are working in neutral, your body has less stress on your muscles, tendons, and skeletal system reducing the risk of incurring a musculoskeletal injury.
Create an “L” with your body
To operate in neutral, you want to keep your body lengthened and aligned. To do this, you create an “L” position with your body. To do this:
- Keep your head directly above your shoulders not tilting forward, backward or to the side.
- Align hips slightly above knees forming a 110-degree angle. This will take the pressure off of your bones.
Create a 90-degree bend in your knees to support your upper body. Knees should be 2”-3” off the front of your chair when sitting.
- Place feet flat on the floor. If your chair is too high, adjust down if possible. If not adjustable, use a flat stole to place your feet on.
2. Repetitive Motions
A significant portion of work-related injuries happen over time and are caused by on-going, repetitive movements. Those repetitive motions can be everything from typing, to answering a phone, to hammering a nail. By itself, those activities do not typically cause strain but the consistent use of the muscles to complete the same action, overtime can lead to stress and pain with the musculoskeletal system.
Switch Tasks Every Hour
A good rule to follow when it comes to preventing repetitive motion injuries is to frequently switch tasks so that you are using an entirely different muscle group at the top of every hour. This will allow your muscles to recover while maintaining work productivity.
Additionally, workers should take advantage of any ergonomic tools at their disposal. Adjustable chairs, monitor stands, and headsets are just a few tools that can be easily integrated into a workspace to reduce the risk of injury from repetitive motions.
3. Awkward Positioning
Awkward positioning refers to positions in the body when a person deviates significantly from neutral position while performing tasks. When a person completes a task in an awkward position, the muscles operate less efficiently and require the worker to expend more force to complete the task. This additional force and decreased efficiency can result in musculoskeletal injury. Some examples of awkward positioning include bending, reaching, lifting, and twisting.
Keep What You’re Working on Close to You
Avoid awkward positions, it is important to keep whatever you are working on close to you. Specifically, try to keep everything within arms-reach. This keeps your body closer to neutral by not requiring you to reach, twist, or bend to get to your work. If you are working on a stationary object that cannot be moved closer to you, make sure to check your position frequently respect your discomfort if it develops. Take breaks, change positions, and stretch stiff muscles.
4. Not Moving Frequently
Research suggests that when the body is in a static state for an extended period, a worker has a higher chance of suffering a musculoskeletal injury. Beyond a musculoskeletal injury, extended sitting can cause chronic life-altering injuries such as obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Get UP Every 30 Minutes
In a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it is suggested that after 30 minutes of sitting, a person should get up and move. The new research finds that moving every 30 minutes significantly not only reduces the risk of suffering a musculoskeletal injury but also the risk of early mortality. Some suggestions for movement include:
- Doing a lap around your office.
- Walking to the water fountain.
- Printing to a printer outside of the office and walking to collect the paper.
- Standing for some simple stretches at your desk.
5. Pulling Injuries
Injuries while pulling objects are often associated with overexertion and are some of the most common ergonomic injuries reported in the workplace. Along with muscle strains, it is not uncommon for other injuries to be associated with pushing and pulling objects including slips, trips, and falls.
Push Rather than Pull
Whenever possible, it is best to push an object rather than pull. This is true for some reasons, including:
- You can see where you are going.
- Pushing puts less stress on your shoulders, decreasing your chance of injury.
- Using your body weight allows you to apply more force requiring less strain of your muscles.
In the workplace, the best way to address musculoskeletal injuries it to prevent them in the first place. With simple behavior modifications and training, employees can avoid common ergonomic problems reducing absenteeism, workers’ compensation claims, and claims costs.